ד׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ז (January 2, 2017)

Bava Metzia 98a-b: Let the Borrowing Begin

We have learned that a borrower who only benefits from his relationship with the owner, has a higher level of responsibility towards the borrowed animal or object than does a sokher (a renter) or a shomer (a watchman).

When does the responsibility of the sho’el – the borrower – begin?

Ordinarily, it begins when the sho’el takes possession of the animal. The Mishna on today’s daf discusses situations where there is a time-lapse between the time the animal leaves the owner’s house and when it is received by the borrower. If the owner sends it to the borrower by means of an agent – e.g. his son or his slave, or even the son or slave of the borrower – and an accident took place before the borrower received it, the borrower will not be responsible, since it never reached his hand. If, however, the borrower asked that the animal be sent to him by one of these agents, since the agent represents the borrower, we view the transfer to the agent as if it had already arrived into the borrower’s possession, and he will be held liable for any accident.

Ordinarily the term in the Mishna refers to an eved kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave. If that is the case, the Gemara asks, how can the sho’el be held responsible for an animal that the eved is bringing him? Even if he asked that the owner send the animal with the eved, still an eved kena’ani is viewed by halakha as being fully owned by the master, so the animal must be seen as remaining in the owner’s possession until the time that it is formally handed over to the borrower. The Gemara therefore limits this ruling to a case where the agent was an eved ivri – a Jewish slave – who retains his personal autonomy and is viewed more as a long-term employee. It is only in such a case that we view the transfer to the agent as if it had already arrived into the borrower’s possession.

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